Published: 19 Feb 2013 10:50 CET
All the talk in France might be about wealthy natives going into tax exile in more appealing foreign climes but the reality is thousands of people still head to France each year with the hope of making a life for themselves.
Many come with the idea of working for a year whilst others arrive here hoping to fulfill their lifelong ambition of building a new career in France. The problem is that the path down which you must go in order to follow that dream is littered with obstacles and pot holes, especially if you are from outside the EU.
Obviously if you are lucky enough to have a partner or parent from France or the EU then being able to legally work there should not be an issue. Also if you happen to work for a company that is willing to transfer you to their Paris branch then you too are in luck.
But for everyone else they have to negotiate France’s notorious immigration rules and regulations in order to get their hands on that all-important working visa and the reality is that not everyone makes it.
Rising unemployment is putting even more pressure on authorities to allow only the right people in so unless you are a highly specialized individual that can do a job no French person is capable of, then you will have to queue up like everyone else.
To avoid the disappointment of getting locked out or even worse kicked out of France, lawyer Jean Taquet, author of the handbook ‘Living in France’ says you must stick to the old philosophy of ‘fail to prepare and you prepare to fail’.
“When you move to another country, you are uprooting yourself and trying to get settled in a place you don’t know. Doing this requires some serious planning. Nothing is going to work according to the vision you have,” Taquet tells The Local.
“Lots of people give up after two or three years because they don’t plan it well enough.”
In his role as a French jurist and advisor to dozens of potential residents in France, Taquet also has the job of instilling some realism in his clients. To be able to make a successful living in France or to even get a position where you are legally allowed to try, then all those dreamy ideals of France inspired by watching 'Amélie’ or ‘A Year in Provence’ need to be extinguished.
“Many people come to France with a romantic view of the country. They say: ‘I’m in love with Paris so give me some working papers’,” Taquet says.
“I try to calm them down and tell them this is nothing to do with being romantic. You need to set real objectives and calculate some real figures. Once you have a professional plan it often works out. I tell people to contact me over a year before they are thinking of making the move to France so they can put these steps in place.”
Those 'real figures' Taquet says, gain greater significance for those who have working visas, such as a Self-Employed Permit, which require foreign nationals to earn a certain amount each month.
The level of required earnings is linked to the minimum wage in France which currently stands at around €1,400 gross per month. But authorities are unlikely to give you an exact figure. Essentially you need to prove to them that you can look after yourself.
Planning how to get to the point where you can securely finance your new French life without having to call home and ask your relatives for some more pocket money is crucial, says Taquet.
“I stress to people the importance of making a business plan and of working out exactly how they are going to finance themselves. They need to get to a point where they are earning reasonable money,” he says. “They need to think: ‘What do I want to achieve and how much time am I prepared to give it?’ Once you have people following that plan then settling in France works well.”
And the key to planning a successful business plan is not ‘what can France do for me, but what can I do for France’.
“Think what expertise you have that you can sell in France,” says Taquet. “People often say to me: 'I'm a professional in this field or that’ and I say: ‘No, what you can sell in France is English’. People might say it’s not an expertise but as soon as you arrive in France it becomes an expertise and it’s something you can sell.
“For example, a real estate lawyer could study to qualify as a French lawyer but that would take him at least three years. But alternatively what he could do is market him or herself to law firms in big national companies and say: 'You can use my expertise and language for when you are dealing with the US'. People really need a paradigm shift in the way they think. It does not work like back home here.”
Applying for a working visa in France can be a harrowing experience thanks to the notorious French bureaucracy. Some have long held the theory that French authorities make it so hard just to test your desire to stay in France. But for whatever reason there is no way around the paperwork. Taquet says prepare for the worst case scenario when it comes to providing the right documents.
“Never trust the list of documents they tell you to bring. If it says four things then it’ll probably end up being 15,” he says. “For example for health coverage, if you are told to provide proof of health coverage, don’t just take a copy of the front of the policy but of all of it so they can see how widespread the cover is. You also need to show proof that you have paid it. So at first you might think it is just one document, but it actually ends up being two or three.
“You just need to follow their logic and prove to them that everything has been taken care of. So many times people have gone to the prefecture (police) and come out saying: ‘They have asked me for more documents’. It drives Americans mad.”
Of course there are other ways into France than having to go through the trauma of trying to get a work visa. One popular route, followed by thousands each year, is to sign yourself up to a course and become a student in France.
Although you will need to prove you have sufficient financial backing to be able to afford to live, a student visa enables you to work a certain number of hours.
But if you are intending to follow this path in the hope of eventually getting your hands on a working visa then don’t bank on it.
“A student visa can very quickly become a trap,” Taquet says. “Remember that you have to show you are getting good grades and moving forward. Let’s say you study French. By year three you have reached a good level. How can you convince them you need to study more French before you can go on and do something else?”
“The problem is it is relatively risky to go from student status to employee status. As a student you earn the right to work part-time and students regularly try to extend their visas. But eventually the prefecture says no. You could be working in a company for three years as a student but as soon as you request a working visa, the authorities say: ‘There’s 10 percent unemployment in this sector so no, sorry’.”
Another reason thousands up sticks and move to France is romance. Many people follow their French partner here or simply come here alone with the hope of meeting the Frenchman or woman of their dreams.
Like in every country marriage has often acted as a conduit in enabling someone to stay and work but Taquet says l’amour does not always mean lasting happiness.
“Obviously, if you marry a French national then you can stay automatically. But again people need to be careful, because if you split up within three years you will get sent back,” he says. “If your wife or husband leaves you, you will lose all your rights to stay in France. You can’t ask for a change of status, you need to pack up and leave. So you need to make sure your marriage is going to last.
“That’s why I recommend the civil partnership PACS – (Pacte Civil de Solidarité) over marriage because that condition does not exist in the PACS agreement and as a result the prefecture tends to be more lenient.”
But rather than hoping a student visa will miraculously turn into a working visa or banking everything on a marriage, Taquet says the best thing to do is simply put yourself in a position where France cannot say no.
When it comes to the time when you need to apply for one of the various working visas, don’t leave anything to chance.
“What I often say to American clients who want to come and live in France is ‘qualify to come to France first’," says Taquet. “Get into a position where you don’t have to think 'which visa do I have the chance of getting' but 'which visas can I choose from?’ Make sure you choose the right visa for you, depending on how long you want to stay here. And remember, if it’s easy to get it probably does not offer you much.”
The internet has a wealth of information on the different types of work visas for France and their requirements. One useful site is the French Consulate General in Washington DC.
Information on visas can also be found on this French government website.
If you're searching for a job in France, you can view available positions on The Local's job page.